Baby steps: Australia’s carbon tax passes Senate vote

Today could be viewed as an historic day for Australia, where the carbon tax has just today been voted through the Senate. Historic, yes, because it’s taken 20 years for Australia to finally implement this legislation. Finally, a price has been put on carbon in Australia. O my, what a fight it has been. If the NZ Herald thought Robyn Malcolm’s attack on John Key at the weekend was “vitriolic”, I’m not sure how they’d label the toxic politics across the ditch.

Tony Abbott has vowed in blood to repeal the package. He’s been obsessed with blood, baying for Julia Gillard’s all year. But it doesn’t seem to have got him anywhere — his unpopularity has reached new heights today, according to a news poll today.

I’m not going to go into the details of the tax and how it compares with NZ, as Mr February has covered that far better than I ever could in two excellent blogs here and here.

The tax has rallied the right. And boy have they rallied, with anti-carbon tax rallies up and down the country, festooned with abusive placards like “ditch the bitch” – and much, much worse. At one point even Tony had to distance himself from these, his most avid supporters.

Anti-carbon tax front groups have sprung up like mushrooms. They invited a slew of deniers to Australia’s shores: first, Lord Monckton, who likened the Government’s climate change advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut, to a Nazi. His visit was courtesy (at least in part) to Australia’s richest woman, Hancock Prospecting’s Gina Reinhart and the Australian Minerals Exploration Council. Us kiwis were unlucky enough to get caught in this crossfire when Monckton arrived here afterwards, although it was a relief to nobody took much notice of him here, much to Don Brash’s fury.

Then came the sceptic Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, courtesy of the right wing think tank, the Institute for Public Affairs (that today has featured denier Ian Plimer on its front page, appealing for funds). The final denier in the trio was head of the UK sceptic think tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Lord Nigel Lawson.

After buying into Channel 10, Ms Reinhart got her favourite blogger, Australia’s equivalent to Anthony Watts — Andrew Bolt — his own TV show. Between him and radio shock jock Alan Jones, the vitriol got louder.

Their threats were empty: Australia will lose jobs, poor people will have to pay, etc, etc. And climate change isn’t real anyway. All the usual drivel. A lovely rebuttal to that came from one of my favourite Australian bloggers — Geoff Lemon at “Heathenscripture” who captured the debate (and rebutted most of the arguments against the tax) rather nicely back in July. (For those of you who are not squeamish, the original, more colourful post is here).

But at the end of the day, they failed. For all the bleating, the threats, the bullying, the denial and despite being backed by a media dominated by Murdoch (who controls a massive 70% of the Australian media), sense has prevailed.

So, by the middle of next year, 500 of the biggest companies in Australia will have to pay a carbon tax. And some of the income will be used to compensate the lower socio-economic section of society who might be adversely affected by it. All good. But is it? I can’t help feeling slightly cynical.

One of the things that has struck me by the debate: the government’s insistence that the coal industry will not be affected. The coal industry will continue to grow. But isn’t such a package designed to slow that growth? To wean us off fossil fuels? Seems not. The Australian Treasury has said that, as a result of the carbon tax package, Australia’s emissions in 2020 will be 530 million tonnes of C02 in 2020, as opposed to 697 million tonnes. A reduction of a massive five percent based on 2000 levels.

After 20 years, and in the face of overwhelming climate science, Australia will cut an annual, but tiny, 149 million tonnes of emissions by 2020. Baby steps. But are baby steps what we need here, nearly 20 years after the world signed the Climate Convention?

Let’s look at what’s on the table for Australian coal, where are more than 120 new coal mines on the books. Together, the coal from those mines will see 800 million tonnes a year of coal exported. When burned, they will add around 2000 million tonnes of C02 to the atmosphere. Australia will not have to count these emissions: they will be the burden of other countries. Mostly developing countries.

At the end of the day, while every little bit helps, we need more than Australian’s carbon tax — everywhere (including New Zealand) — to head off this impending disaster.

3 thoughts on “Baby steps: Australia’s carbon tax passes Senate vote”

  1. Let’s hope this persuades Australian industry to use wind and solar. Then they could undercut everyone else. It could be the start of a new reality – you know the one where we actually ignore the fossil fools and listen to the scientists.

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